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What I learned from planning my academic life to the minute

In the past, I used a time management system that was mostly based on scheduled appointments, and planning larger chunks of work over a number of days, and over time I mostly changed the tools that I used – my little red planner was, however, always at the center of my planning activities. But last January, as I started teaching and juggling an increasing number of tasks, I went digital at last, and started to schedule blocks of time in my daily calendar to devote bits and pieces of my day to different tasks, a technique that I embraced from Dr. Tanya Golash-Boza and Dr. Raul Pacheco-Vega.

As I’ve now survived my first semester of teaching and gained some experience in planning blocks of time, there are a few thoughts on this topic that I’d like to share.

1. I need to plan time for buffer

I need to keep in mind that for 8 hours of being at work, I can typically only get 6 hours of work done. There’s always time that goes lost in between. So for the hours that I am physically in my office, I should avoid to schedule every single minute, and either be a little more generous in the time that I allot to my different tasks (say – book 2,5 hours of writing time for getting only 2 hours of actual writing done), or really learn to schedule some buffer time into my planning.

2. Email takes more time

I wrote about how much time I spend on email already at length – but I am still baffled by how much time it actually takes. It seems to be related to my teaching position (these months that I’m enjoying the peace and quiet of doing research in the Netherlands, I get way less email and spend no more than 20 minutes replying and archiving email per day), and it also seems to be something related to USFQ and/or Ecuador. USFQ has this internal mailing list, the “News” which sometimes generates close to 100 mails a day (I do direct these emails to a separate folder, but the volume is appalling, and I still need to at least skim through the headings to see if I’m not missing out on something important). It also could be related to the slightly more random way in which things are organized in Ecuador – and the fact that I often need to send about 10 emails to any of the supporting services of the university to get anything done at all (I’m still waiting for the day my desktop computer will be actually functional *gasp*).

3. Interruptions

Even if I plan in buffer time, there’s still all the coming and going in my office from students, colleagues, visitors and more – and the phone calls on my office land line. Basically, if a homework is due on the next day, I should just calculate 2 hours of interruptions caused by the coming and going of students (and I do prefer them coming to my office and asking questions over giving bad grades or seeing that everyone copied the solution of the 1 student who had An Idea – good or bad). It’s not something I originally calculated into my scheduled, but something I need to take into account at the start of the Fall semester.

4. Sometimes I prefer to keep working on 1 topic

I have an intrinsic dislike for multitasking – even though I’m easily distracted and scatter-minded and all that. My most blissful moments are when I’m playing music, a task that requires all my attention and senses to be focused on just playing. A near close second would be the moment that I am deeply buried into research thoughts, and steadily working at untangling a knot. It almost feels like being in an underground tunnel, completely absorbed by my research. When you schedule blocks of 45 minutes to 2 hours, it sometimes feels “too early” to change tasks. I know that it is best to write a bit every day to move my papers forward, but I still seem to prefer to reserve larger chunks of time, so that I can more deeply concentrated. On the other hand, if I schedule longer blocks of time, I’m more prone to procrastinate and get less done. I’m still looking for the optimum time slot for being able to do deep work and still move several projects forward at once.

… And so the quest for the optimum time management strategy goes on!

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This Post Has 5 Comments
  1. I too struggle with what the optimum time is for the \”getting stuck in\” tasks. If you do figure it out, please please please share!

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